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Enchanted Hills Retreat

A New Gathering Place: EHC’s Redwood Grove Theater

Over the weekend, Enchanted Hills Construction Manager George Wurtzel placed the last screw in the final hand-constructed and carved redwood benches that are the signature seating of Enchanted Hills’ new 120-person Redwood Grove Theater. It’s a project that has come to fruition over the last 10 years through patience, perseverance and unrivaled community support. And it’s ready just in time for our annual Music Academy Concert on August 12.

RSVP for our Summer Music BBQ this Saturday, 4 p.m. at Enchanted Hills in Napa.

The idea for the theater was born out of a piece of Enchanted Hills’ history relayed to us by longtime Enchanted Hills friend, counselor and historian Hope Sinclair. Hope’s father, Philip Webster, bought the land in 1927 and operated a boy’s camp there for more than 20 years. Hope herself spent much of her childhood at camp in the 1930s and 1940s and developed a detailed love for the nature and history of the place.

From conversations with Hope about the site’s history, Camp Director Tony Fletcher learned that a section of lower camp was often used for meetings and talent shows during its time as a boys camp, due to its natural acoustics. When new CEO Bryan Bashin toured camp in 2010 he instantly saw the potential to restore the disused and junk-filled natural bowl into an outdoor space of unparalleled beauty and usefulness: an outdoor theater area to host concerts, movie nights and large gatherings that would be shady in the summertime and make the most of the area’s fantastic acoustics.

Listen to this video from an impromptu performance in the theater to hear the breathtaking natural acoustics.

It was in keeping with EHC’s mission and the spirit instilled in camp by founder Rose Resnick, who was a talented musician and former concert pianist who helped make music and performance the part of everyday life at EHC that it remains today.

Starting in 2007 with the EHC fire abatement plan, a bowl started to appear as  a troupe of goats hired to clear brush in lower camp. EHC then wrangled various volunteer groups including California Conservation Core, 4H Club and the Greater Napa Kiwanis Club to help clear the area even more, and over the next 10 years the project was brought to completion with the care and collaboration of Bill Cinquini, Alan Butler, Tim Gregory Construction and George Wurtzel, EHC staff and a successful 2015 Indiegogo campaign.

“Getting the Redwood Grove built was a little bit like the LightHouse in microcosm,” says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “Waves of volunteers, AmeriCorps, metal recyclers, architects, the Kiwanis club, donations from Adobe Lumber, and of course our blind  camp construction manager, George Wurtzel, who built the benches with his own hands—this is the community and cooperation I find as beautiful and harmonious as the music you’ll hear on Saturday.”

And Tony doesn’t see the project as totally complete—yet. “This project took the creativity and commitment of many many people. I’m most satisfied to think about all the different folks who have had something to do with this. And I don’t see it as done. The theater could ultimately hold as many as 499 people, so I see it as an evolving process. Hopefully it will continually grow and develop over decades to follow.”

Thank you to the many organizations and individuals who helped bring the Redwood Grove Theater into being. We hope you’ll visit us up at camp on August 12 to witness the beautiful and one-of-a-kind fruits of our labors. Learn more and RSVP for the Music Academy Concert here.

The terraced seating and stage of the Redwood Grove Theater surrounded by lush redwoods.
The terraced seating and stage of the Redwood Grove Theater surrounded by lush redwoods. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A view from behind the stage of the Redwood Grove Theater.
A view from behind the stage of the Redwood Grove Theater. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A side view of a crowd listening to music in the Redwood Grove Theater.
A side view of a crowd listening to music in the Redwood Grove Theater. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A closeup of the redwood benches, which were individually designed and hand carved by EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel.
A closeup of the redwood benches, which were individually designed and carved by EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A detail ivy pattern carved into the back of one of the benches.
A detail ivy pattern carved into the back of one of the benches. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.

Blind Artisans Come out of the Woodwork, Choose Enchanted Hills for Annual Conference

Photo: A group of men stand around a large tree trunk meant for turning on a lathe.

At the end of this summer, Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat hosted a small but dedicated international organization, Woodworking for the Blind, for its first-ever conference in Napa. Our newly completed DeLong-Sweet Tactile Arts Barn in the woods of Mt. Veeder provided the perfect setting for this group of a dozen blind and low vision woodworkers to hone their skills and reinvigorate their love for tactile craftsmanship. George Wurtzel, Enchanted Hills Construction Manager and blind woodworking guru, facilitated an overall unforgettable experience. He provided guidance, training and engagement as the group learned the ins and outs of our new workshop.

If any of this intrigues, we encourage you to sign up for either of our two upcoming woodworking workshops at Enchanted Hills:

Meanwhile: Jeff Thompson, creator of the Blind Abilities podcast, was present for the whole thing, and had great things to say in his debrief after the conference. Read his essay, below.

The following is by Jeff Thompson:

WW4B stands for Wood Working for the Blind and is a group of International woodworkers that were invited to attend the Enchanted Hills Camp in the newly renovated Arts Building. This event happened over a 3 day period August 24-26 where 14 top notch blind woodworkers descended upon the 311 acres located on Veeder Mountain above Napa Valley, California.

Although this was the 5th such gathering for WW4B, this time the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco offered their facilities at Enchanted Hills Camp where George Wurtzel, Construction Supervisor, has brought his talents and knowledge and where many camp attendees will learn about wood working, the arts and mostly, gain confidence. With such a response from wood workers across the states and Canada, George invited me to assist with the event. Such an honor to be asked by George Wurtzel who I consider my guru in the area of wood working. George has done wood working his entire life and openly shares his experience with anybody willing to learn and listen.

I arrived 3 days in advance with my wife and was welcomed with open arms and some very nice people working at the camp. Caretakers Janet and Donnie and handyman Chris were inviting and made us feel comfortable from the get-go. The wood working area was huge and the new oak flooring was impressive. The Redwood deck and steps were fresh and were milled at the saw mill just up the mountain. Most of  Enchanted hills Camp is covered with Redwoods and when opportunity happens and a fallen tree is offered up by Mother Nature, the tree is traded for lumber already cut. Nice to have neighbors with a saw mill.

George and I went over the shop which consisted of 4 table saws, 3 lathes, a massive band saw, planers, jointers, full-face sanders and on and on. I realized that this shop could produce just about anything. George knew that the WW4B group would be a bit different than what he or I have been accustomed to in the past. Typically, we are teachers of those wanting to gain confidence and overcome fears by working with tools and accomplishing a goal. This group of blind wood workers were not new to wood working, they are some of the best wood workers out there. Blind or not, they are some of the best. George took the approach that the shop could handle just about anything they would want to learn and was encouraging anybody who knew more to step up and share.

This was a great opportunity for me to meet all these guys that I followed on-line, in emails and on audio over the last 10 years when I returned to wood working upon discovering the click-ruler measuring device. We did not build a project, we did not construct much at all, but we all shared ideas, experiences and how-to-do’s till just around midnight each night. We would rise for breakfast the staff prepared –  wonderful fruits and veggies, breakfast foods and most important, good coffee. Then off to the shop where each day another machine or three was the focus of discussion and discovery. Most of us had experience on the machines, however, just as the WW4B group shares emails, this moment was unique as there were 16 of us, all accomplished wood workers putting our heads and thoughts together.

The Dove-Tail Jig from Lee Valley was a new tool that was thought of as not being accessible to the Blind. We shot that notion down as a few of us went through the settings and after some trials and discoveries, we put that notion to rest. We achieved perfect dove-tails and the confidence that any one of us could use such a jig in the future.

Block gauges, centering bits, plunging routers, tapering jigs, planers and lathes were just part of the 3-day workshop.
Being open to what the wood workers wanted to do was brilliant because each one of the attendees brought something to the table and everybody took from each other. It was like being surrounded by wood encyclopedias that actually talked! I was assisting, yes, and I was soaking up as much information as I could.

The after dinner gathering was just as rewarding. Talks and discussions opened my mind to different ways of doing the same thing. And believe me, finding out a tip or trick that saves me time is a real value. Time is priceless. The WW4B took over one night and showed us some accessible devices that with a Raspberry Pie, a controller, one could use an Angle block or caliper and get audio feedback. This isn’t a produced package but this is something that these guys have cobbled together and made it work. I myself and George immediately saw the usefulness of the angle block for setting bevels and angle cuts on the compound-miter saws. We will each take one, please. Aagard Group manufactures top quality packaging automation machines used around the world, they will be helping package the work that the artisans make.

At the end of the day and at the end of the event, I was stuffed and overflowing with new information, links to check out, contacts to make and most of all, I am now part of a wood working community.

I would like to thank LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco for their vision of Enchanted Hills Camp. Learning about how they manage and care for the 311 acres of Redwoods and the preservation of the land, water and trees is encouraging as they build the infrastructure at the camp to ensure the lasting impact that Enchanted Hills will be able to deliver in the future for years to come.


Our Popular Woodworking Workshop with George Wurtzel Returns in the New Year

Photo: Surrounded by woodworking tools and machinery, George Wurtzel works on a wooden bowl in the DeLong-Sweet Tactile Arts Barn at Enchanted Hills.

Join expert carpenter George Wurtzel at our popular workshop for both beginning and experienced woodworkers.

This class will cover wood turning, hand tool work and an introduction to power tools. We’ll learn how to measure accurately without sight, using click rules, gauge blocks, Vernier calipers and talking tape measures. We’ll talk about wood types and construction techniques and learn when to glue, when to nail and when to use screws. We’ll also touch on finishing techniques.

Who: Adults (ages 21 and older) who are blind or have low vision and are eager to learn woodworking
Where: Enchanted Hills Camp
When: Thursday, February 16 through Sunday, February 19, 2017
Cost: $300.00 plus $40.00 for transportation
Class is limited to six participants, so sign up now.

For questions and registration, please contact Taccarra Burrell at TBurrell@LightHouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7310.

Winter in the Redwoods – a Tranquil Time at Enchanted Hills Retreat

Photo: A cabin surrounded by redwood trees at Enchanted Hills.

Redwood trees love the rain. They get greener, release aromatics into the air and you can almost hear the growth in their needles. And the many creeks that snake through the 311 acres of Enchanted Hills become full and raucous, a wonderful thing to behold.

Come experience the beauty and natural cacophony of Enchanted Hills in the winter months. Throughout the rest of the year, Enchanted Hills is a bustling place, full of blind campers having fun, trying new things, meeting mentors and other blind kids like them. But in the winter, things on Mount Veeder slow down a bit and it’s a perfect time to hold that family reunion, church retreat or corporate off-site you’ve been planning. With indoor amenities, lodging and delicious meals, Enchanted Hills Retreat is an affordable and beautiful place to bring your group of 30 to 100, and there are discounted rates during January and February.

And you know what’s even better? Your retreat in Napa supports the life-changing programs for blind campers at Enchanted Hills.

To take a tour or check availability call (415) 694-7310 or email afletcher@lighthouse-sf.org. For photos and more information visit www.enchantedhillsretreat.com.

Woodworking with George Wurtzel Returns in November

Image: Surrounded by woodworking tools and machinery, George Wurtzel works on a wooden bowl in the DeLong -Sweet Tactile Arts Barn at Enchanted Hills.

Join expert carpenter George Wurtzel at our popular workshop for both beginning and experienced woodworkers.

This class will cover wood turning, hand tool work and an introduction to power tools. We’ll learn how to measure accurately without sight, using click rules, gauge blocks, Vernier calipers and talking tape measures. We’ll talk about wood types and construction techniques and learn when to glue, when to nail and when to use screws. We’ll also touch on finishing techniques.

Who: Adults (ages 21 and older ) who are blind or have low vision and are eager to learn woodworking

Where: Enchanted Hills Camp

When: Thursday, November 10 through Sunday, November 13

Cost: $300.00 plus $40.00 for transportation

Class is limited to six participants, so sign up now.

To sign up for this special workshop, contact Camp Director Tony Fletcher at tfletcher@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7319 for an application or with any questions.

Get Away from the Hubbub: Take your Group to Enchanted Hills Retreat

It’s been an outstanding summer at Enchanted Hills. Camp sessions focusing on intensive learning like Music Academy and STEM Camp have been sandwiched between traditional camp sessions for kids, families and blind people of all ages.

Now that the campers are going home to school and work, there are some openings for groups to come and enjoy the beauty and solitude of Enchanted Hills. And your family reunion, wedding, religious group or company gathering will support the life-changing programs of Enchanted Hills.

Enchanted Hills Retreat is intimate and private. Time goes a little slower on Mt. Veeder, filled with peaceful walks through the Redwoods, games of horseshoes, gatherings in the KIVA and delicious meals in our dining hall. There is WIFI if you need it, or you can totally unplug.

Accommodations feature 6 duplex cottages and other lodging. You can even have a campfire and s’mores at your request.

Want to take a tour or check if the dates you are interested in are available? Call 415-694-7310 or visit www.enchantedhillsretreat.com.

Enchanted Hills to Host “Woodworking for the Blind” Annual Summer Workshop

Led by our own master woodworker, George Wurtzel, Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind is excited to host the Woodworking for the Blind’s Fifth Annual Summer Workshop from August 23 through 27.

Woodworking for the Blind is a national organization of both novice and experienced blind woodworkers. The August Workshop features three full days of instruction at Enchanted Hills and will concentrate on various aspects of wood joinery including dovetails, mortise and tenons, box finger joints and lap and bridle joints. In addition there will be sessions on cutting curves with templates on both router and bandsaw, as well as woodturning techniques, coloring wood with dyes and stains, finishing guidelines and a presentation on developments in talking tools.

Although this workshop is full, George Wurtzel will be presenting another workshop training for blind woodworkers from November 10 thru the 13 at Enchanted Hills Camp. Applications for this special workshop will be available through the LightHouse website in August.

For further information, contact George Wurtzel at gwurtzel@lighthouse-sf.org.

Blindness Teachers and Educators Gather at Enchanted Hills for Biggest Providers Weekend Ever

O&M instructors, Teachers of the Visually Impaired, Blindness agency representatives and independent contractors in the blindness field all came together in late May to network and learn at Enchanted Hills Retreat. Highlights included an overview of tactile map projects that included a tactile map-driven scavenger hunt; a session led by LightHouse staff on how to best to collaborate with the Department of Rehabilitation; and our featured presenter, Christian Erfurt, CEO of Be My Eyes, an app that connects blind people with volunteer describers from around the world via live video chat.

Camp Director Tony Fletcher said, “It was extremely enjoyable meeting such a variety of participants but especially to see the number of first timers at EHC. We don’t want camp to be a secret. We want students and professionals to know about our camp and our programs and I think we accomplished that goal at this year’s Providers Weekend. I witnessed professional relationships forming and an impressive connectivity.”

Enchanted Hills Retreat in Spring – Spend an Enchanted April, May or June in the Heart of Napa

Spring in Enchanted Hills. One of the many paths through the grounds – this one surrounded by verdant green grass, vivid yellow flowers and graced by one of the local goats who help us with brush clearance.Did you know that Enchanted Hills, our historic camp for the blind and visually impaired located on Mt. Veeder in Napa, also accepts reservations for retreats, getaways and events of all sorts?

A stay at Enchanted Hills Retreat will make you and your group feel renewed and the clean air and babbling springs will make you feel refreshed. Your retreat sojourn also supports the unique programs of Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind. This summer these offerings include our annual Music Academy for young aspiring musicians, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp for budding blind scientists, horse camp for blind horse aficionados and hands-on wood working in our new Arts Barn.

To reserve Enchanted Hills for your get-together of 30 to 120, please call (415) 694-7310 or go to enchantedhillsretreat.com.

Changing Vision Changing Life, Immersion Training – Plan for your April in Napa or your Summer in San Francisco

Students and instructors from the January class gather for a group photo in front of the fireplace at Enchanted Hills RetreatFor more than three years now, the LightHouse has developed our six-day Changing Vision Changing Life (CVCL) immersion training program at Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa. Each CVCL session brings together up to 14 adult students of all ages, from Northern California and the Central Valley, who are either new to low vision or blindness, or have had a significant change in vision and have requested additional training.

We’re excited to announce that come June, we will add a very special new venue for training – our newly constructed headquarters at 1155 Market Street in San Francisco. But no matter the site, Napa or San Francisco, the outcome is the same, to provide you with a myriad of options, information, basic training and support to get you started on the journey of living your life the way you want and maintaining your independence.

The CVCL curriculum, presented in four or five sessions per day, includes: ways to read printed materials; understanding how lighting, contrast and magnification can help you every day; techniques for organizing and labeling in your home or office; best methods for taking notes; basic cooking skills; traveling and moving safely and confidently in your home and in the community and understanding how accessible computers and other high and low tech equipment can enhance your life.

Evening discussions focus inwards, from conversations about holding yourself accountable on you journey, to self-advocacy, to questions about how friends, family and partners can understand/support you and your path. Sometimes the process is planned, other times it becomes very organic. Every person and every group of students is different and we individualize much of the experience depending on your own aspirations.

Gaining understanding of what is available to you, getting hands-on with new skills and developing renewed confidence with changing vision is the overall theme of the week. While the experience is different for everyone, the act of coming together with other adults, both students and teachers, who are blind or have low vision, to learn or relearn skills, and to get back into the stream of life, remains a pivotal part of the week-long experience.

At both sites, students will live in comfortable shared accommodations (minimum two to a room), are provided three meals a day and have transportation access to Napa from San Francisco, Berkeley, San Rafael and Eureka. If you are blind or have low vision and want attend a CVCL session you must be genuinely interested in learning the skills for moving forward; enjoy learning with a group of peers and must be able and willing to participate full day (from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., every day) of active learning and physical participation (rural mobility in Napa/urban mobility in San Francisco).

Note, there is no cost to attend if you are 55 or older and living in San Francisco, Alameda, Marin, Humboldt or Del Norte counties and limited scholarships are available for persons who are under 55 and not eligible for Department of Rehabilitation Services.

Dates for our upcoming training sessions:

April 10 through 14 at Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa

June 12 through 17 at our new headquarters in San Francisco

July 10 through 15 at our new headquarters in San Francisco (note: all training in Spanish)

July 31 through 5 at our new headquarters in San Francisco

The Changing Vision Changing Life Immersion Training is open to adults who are ready for a jump start or, a recharge as vision has changed. Interested? Contact us in San Francisco, San Rafael or Eureka to find out more our sign up: